Dallas Driving from Little Rock to Dallas on Easter morning, the red clover along the interstate seemed a foot high in Arkansas and started to peter out in Texas to be replaced by bluebonnets along the embankments and the wonderful site of seeing parked cars along the highway disgorging whole families who wanted to have their pictures taken, stretched out in the luxuriant growth. Spring is an exhilarating time for lots of reasons, but in this part of the country April showers don’t just bring May flowers, it also means Spring Break and a host of volunteers coming to help out in New Orleans and elsewhere.
Easter weekend meant huge crowds at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse where the sales’ totals rivaled Jazz Fest, our best time of the year, all of which means more support for ACORN International’s organizing, but the real thrill was the work of scores of volunteers on our projects. Our sister organization, A Community Voice, had crews out in the Lower 9th Ward helping on various home repair and cleanup projects, as well as in the Upper 9th Ward going door to door on house visits to alert people to coming community meetings. We had a bunch of help at the ACORN Farm as well doing spring planting with the seedlings that have been hardening up and waiting to hit the ground. I loved seeing a picture of the “community space” which we will use for all kinds of meetings in the new St. Claude building and the coming second location for Fair Grinds. A crew of volunteers had painted the space a vibrant, bright, happy yellow which will improve the quality of the business done there immensely. Another crew had dug out the driveway so that we can lay down pea gravel for outside tables for folks to talk, visit, meet, and enjoy a cup of coffee and computer access simultaneously. The volunteers come from colleges, churches, and private clubs, and each spring we are both surprised and delighted to see them, and are reminded again what a boost a well-organized volunteer program can be to all of our community efforts.
Reading a recent New Yorker article about an aircraft carrier operated by 5000 sailors, pilots, and others, I had noticed an interesting quote from Captain Brain Luther about his crew on the giant U.S.S. George H. W. Bush that seemed, how might I say this, non-military almost, but it touched on the question of volunteers:
If you help them create good memories, they’ll forget a lot of the bad stuff. I’m an old-fashioned forward thinker. Mission first, people always. We’re on a warship, so certain things have to be the way they are. But every sailor on this ship is a volunteer. They gave something up to be here. So we have to give ‘em something back. A lot of it is standard leadership. Eat after they eat, sleep after they sleep. Never give an order if you don’t understand what it’ll mean they’ll have to do.
Another quote worth noting was from Clinton Stonewall III of Birmingham, Alabama who was making some remarks as he was being promoted to lieutenant commander:
I want to thank each and every one of you, especially those who kept me upright and squared away. I put out to sea with family members. And everything we do, whether it’s up here on the flight deck…getting catapults ready, serving in the meal line, whatever it is you’re doing, it’s all for me. You got my back. And I got yours. If you’re a leader out here, you need also to be a servant. The bottom’s a reflection of the top. ‘If you don’t look good, I don’t look good.’ I think Vidal Sassoon had it right when he came out with that. And if I’m looking good here today it’s because of you. It’s because of you.
It’s not surprising to find that the community and culture of the military can resonant with an organizing culture so strongly, and neither is a surprise to find that there’s no amount of appreciation that is too much.
Thanks to a lot of great work, workers, and volunteers, we’re all looking good every day in this work, and there’s no amount of thanks that is enough for the value they bring, over and over and over again, and the importance of keeping that circle unbroken.